You don’t have to visit a major city to see world-class museums, historical mansions with gorgeous gardens and cool art galleries. Come spring, Wilmington, Delaware, and the Brandywine Valley is an ideal destination for those kinds of attractions and more. (In fact, you can visit many of them at discounted prices by purchasing a 2016 Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport). This spring, check out some of the best arts and culture attractions in the Northeast. Here are 11 of the top things to do this spring in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Brandywine Valley.
Brandywine River Museum of Art
Located in a renovated 19th-century mill, the Brandywine River Museum of Art maintains much of its original stone and warehouse-style structures. Inside, art lovers can browse through impressive collections of 19th- and 20th-century American artists, including works from three generations of the Wyeth family. A gorgeous steel-and-glass addition to the original mills looks out over the Brandywine River and streams in natural light. In addition to the main museum, the Brandywine River Museum of Art also maintains two of the Wyeth family working studios near the museum, as well as Kuerner Farm, which inspired many of the works in the Wyeth collection. Tours of the studios and farm begin every spring and run through Thanksgiving.
Delaware Art Museum
The collection at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington has been hailed as one of the finest Pre-Raphaelite assortments outside of Britain. The museum has a number of permanent exhibits worth exploring (with up to 12,000 objects) focusing on American Illustration, Latino art, and an abstract sculpture garden. Museum docents offer guided talks and tours to explain the importance of the museum’s works. Tour offerings and other special events can be found on the museum’s calendar.
Delaware Museum of Natural History
Located in the Wilmington countryside among the rolling hills of the Brandywine Valley, Delaware Museum of Natural History is the place to explore history, science and the natural world. For example, the current exhibition “Great Balls of Fire” (ends on May 30th) explains recent discoveries in our planetary system, while the Dinosaur Gallery takes us back millions of years to explain the history of dinosaurs and recreates them with actual fossils. Another special exhibit starting in early summer is “Extreme Deep: Mission to the Abyss,” which will explore the plant and animal world of the deep sea along with shipwrecks and the researchers who study these depths (June 18 – September 5). Other permanent galleries include the Hall of Birds and Mammals, Nature Nook (where children can explore animal habitats), Shell Gallery, and Darwin and Evolution. Since it’s spring, you can head outside at the museum, which has gardens, patios, and a wildflower and native grass meadow.
Hagley Museum and Library
Once home to the original DuPont Company, Hagley Museum and Library rests on 235 acres of land that house the remains of the gunpowder mill along with stone ruins, restored buildings, the original du Pont family’s Georgian-style mansion and gardens. Staff gives tours throughout the powder yard, home and gardens, and walking trails are available on the premises for visitors to explore on their own. Because of its sheer size and variety of on-site attractions, Hagley offers some ideas for itineraries, including a “du Ponts at Home” itinerary and another itinerary focused on industry and innovation.
The best public garden in the country happens to be in the Brandywine Valley. Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is one of the most popular destinations in the Greater Wilmington area. Visitors can explore the 4-acre mansion-like conservatory with glass ceilings and walls surrounding its topiary masterpieces and large orchid collection. Outside during the spring are brilliant colors in a 1,077-acre garden adorned with flower patches, fountains and ponds with lily pads. The spring also brings 240,000 tulip blossoms that blanket a large portion of the garden along with magnolias, dogwoods, azaleas, wisterias and more.
Mt. Cuba Center
For a mixture of forested wilderness along with formal gardens, Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware is the ideal destination. This outdoor botanical garden allows visitors to get a glimpse of the natural landscape of native dogwood patches, field flowers, rolling hills, and rock formations stretching out for 7.4 acres. A babbling brook runs across the landscape with assorted chairs and benches for visitors to kick back and enjoy the idyllic view. Additionally, the bricked colonial-style Main House has its own formal garden in its south wing featuring an oval swimming pool surrounded by trimmed azaleas and colorful tulips.
Nemours Mansion and Gardens
Have you always wanted to see what it’s like to visit the Versailles? Head over to Nemours Mansion and Gardens in Wilmington, which is another lavish home that once belonged to the du Pont family. Inside the mansion, guests will get a sense of how wealthy the du Ponts were as they visit room to room full of marble checkered floors, golden brown moldings, dark wood wainscoting, posh chandeliers and imported furniture. Take a step outside to its garden and you will feel as if you’ve been transported to France in the early 1900s (the garden is designed after Versailles). The garden has an incredibly large reflection pool with its own fountain and is surrounded by statues, trimmed bushes and flowers. While there, check out the Jacobean-designed library, where more than 2,000 first-edition books are held by world-renown writers like Victor Hugo, Honore Balzac and Voltaire.
Read House & Gardens
Another historical marvel is the Read House & Gardens in Historic New Castle— a riverfront mansion with 22 rooms and echoes of Federal period design. History buffs can canvass the rooms to see its well-preserved furniture, original paintings, and hand-painted murals of a wealthy countryside. Its garden provides a tranquil scenery of white trellises and round-shaped gardens that overlook the Delaware River. After visiting the house and gardens, plan to spend some time in Historic New Castle, which is a worthwhile destination in and of itself just 10 minutes from downtown Wilmington. It only encompasses about 3 square miles, but it’s filled with historic buildings and homes that now house restaurants, boutiques and art galleries. Special events are always taking place in New Castle, including a First Friday art stroll, artisan markets and a summer concert series.
Rockwood Museum & Park
Back in Wilmington, Rockwood Museum & Park is nestled in a 73-acre park with scenic meadows and rotundas. The star attraction is the Gothic Revival-style mansion built in the 1850s, the ghostly tales that surrounds its previous owners, and their spirits that haunt the place. With its original furnishings and many of the family’s belongings left behind, guests can go on a tour to catch a glimpse of what life looked like for the wealthy people living in the countryside at the time. You can reserve a Ghost of Rockwood Mansion tour, where you will be led by a Medium to explore its attic and basement—a rumored hotbed of paranormal activities.
The Delaware Contemporary
If you feel like taking a break from the historical mansions and gardens, The Delaware Contemporary will be right up your alley. Whether it’s photography focusing on controversial subjects, an optical illusion painting, or abstract sculptures, the museum has plenty of items to pique your interest. Walking through its exhibit space of 35,000 square feet, guests can explore up to 26 artists’ studios and learn about the art scene in Delaware.
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Also owned by the wealthy du Pont family, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library welcomes visitors to its garden that’s famous for its overwhelming daffodils on Sycamore Hill. The museum hosts an annual spring event called Daffodil Day, where adults and children can make daffodil-inspired crafts and go on a self-guided tour in the garden. The museum encourages guests to make repeated visits in the spring for peak season to see specific flowers like Azaleas, Bluebells (around May 7) and Peonies and Primroses (around May 15). And of course, there’s the lavish 175-room mansion and renowned American Decorative Arts collection also worth checking out.
Learn more about the gardens and attractions of Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley and the 2016 Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport, a money-saving single ticket to 11 top gardens and museums in Greater Wilmington by going to VisitWilmingtonDE.com.